The State of Climate Adaptation in the Marine and Coastal United States, Territories, and Commonwealths

Executive Summary

The State of Climate Adaptation in the Marine and Coastal United States

Climate change threatens the success and longevity of conservation, planning, and management. In marine and coastal environments, climate change-driven shifts are resulting in increasing ocean temperatures, changes in ocean chemistry, and rising seas, which affect species, habitats, infrastructure, cultures, and economies. Decision makers are faced with the challenge of developing and implementing response strategies that are suitable under changing climate conditions.

The field of climate adaptation is in a period of critical transition as it rushes to meet the needs of a growing user base struggling to address the challenges of climate change. The general concepts of adaptation have been well developed over the past decade. Now, practitioners must move from generalities to concrete actions, including implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the effectiveness of adaptation efforts. EcoAdapt strives to facilitate this transition by providing relevant adaptation examples and a forum for knowledge sharing. Our State of Adaptation Program promotes adaptation action by providing real-life, practical adaptation case studies and reports to catalyze creative thinking and action. These assessments allow us to assess professionals’ understanding and concerns about climate change, and identify the current beliefs, policies, and mechanisms that enable and restrict adaptation action.

In the 2011 report, The State of Marine and Coastal Adaptation in North America: A Synthesis of Emerging Ideas, we documented over 150 adaptation projects and initiatives from the United States, Canada, and Mexico (Gregg et al. 2011). The report concluded that the majority of activities underway were primarily focused on building awareness of how climate change may affect marine and coastal environments and adaptation planning, with some projects that had advanced into implementation. Progress has been made since then and this updated report and guide shares lessons learned from completed projects, and identifies additional adaptation initiatives from different geographies and partners.

First, we provide a summary of climatic changes, including air and ocean temperatures, precipitation patterns and coastal storms, ocean circulation, sea levels, and ocean chemistry (e.g., pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity), and associated impacts on marine and coastal systems, including species, habitats, ecosystem services, and human communities.

Second, we provide an overview and examples of common barriers to adaptation noted by practitioners, such as funding and budgetary constraints, insufficient staff capacity and technical expertise, limited political will to mandate and enforce implementation, and lack of stakeholder awareness and engagement on climate change.

Third, we present adaptation examples by the following categories:

  1. Capacity Building: Strategies include conducting research and collecting additional information, conducting training and planning exercises, improving public awareness 6 and education, developing tools and resources, and monitoring impacts and effectiveness of adaptation actions.
  2. Governance and Policy: Strategies include developing adaptation plans and policies, creating new or enhancing existing policies, and developing adaptive management strategies.
  3. Infrastructure, Planning, and Development: Strategies include improving existing or designing new infrastructure to withstand the effects of climate change, incorporating climate change into community and land use planning, creating or modifying development measures (e.g., removing shoreline hardening, encouraging low-impact development), and developing disaster preparedness plans and policies.
  4. Natural Resource Management and Conservation: Strategies include enhancing areas under protection, restoring critical habitats, and reducing non-climate stressors.

The report concludes with a discussion of some notable trends from this latest review of marine and coastal U.S. adaptation. In general, most action is focused on the assessment and planning phases of adaptation with more moderate advancements in implementation and evaluation. Progress is being made, although likely not at the pace and scale required to keep up with changing conditions. Additional trends of note include a more intentional focus on advancing equitable adaptation; the use of unified climate projections in decision-making; integration of community concerns in adaptation projects led by conservation organizations; slower uptake and implementation of monitoring and evaluation; and the continuing critical role of the federal government in adaptation.


Suggested Citation

Gregg RM, Braddock KN. 2021. The State of Climate Adaptation in the Marine and Coastal United States, Territories, and Commonwealths. EcoAdapt, Bainbridge Island, WA.

Photo Credits

Cover photos (L-R from top): Public domain images from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Caroline S. Rogers/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to The Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust for providing financial support. Thank you to Jessi Kershner, Claire Anderson, and Sally Ann Sims for providing research, writing, and editing support, and to Jessica Hitt for providing technical support. Finally, thank you to the numerous individuals who contributed materials, participated in interviews and surveys, and provided peer review for this project. We hope that our products will promote and support your adaptation efforts.


Adaptation Case Studies by Geographic Region

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